Friday, September 02, 2005

The 18-wheeler in the rear-view mirror

I feel as if I will go mad.

I was glued to the reports online about Katrina’s approach, and went to bed Sunday night distraught, worrying about what would happen when it hit. Then, Monday, we all thought New Orleans had narrowly escaped disaster. Now, of course, we see what the real disaster is: the vast incompetence of our government. The callous, cruel indifference. The unspeakable evil. The stupidity. I don’t have enough synonyms for “incompetent,” so I’ll repeat it: FUCKING incompetent.

I have tried not to become obsessed with this, and go about the tasks of my daily life. School has begun. There are student proposals to read. I have writing and composing and producing to do. But still I read, and I try not to go mad.

Today I met with an ex-student of mine, a woman from South Africa. We exchanged news: her children’s book is being published in South Africa. Her other projects are going well. But walking down the street, the conversation turned to New Orleans, and I thought I would scream out loud in public. How in God’s name will we survive if, God forbid, there is another disaster, or an attack on a major city? Who are these numbnuts who have been placed in charge? Every day I am shocked and surprised and disheartened by the latest atrocity committed by the government, yet I know I shouldn’t be. They stole their way into power, and have spent every waking moment looting and pillaging our country (when they aren’t shopping for shoes or eating birthday cake while on vacation.)

The latest thing I’ve read was an account written by a worker at the aquarium in New Orleans. They tried to keep their generator running as long as possible, but finally it failed. They had no choice but to leave, after days of no food and no sleep. The penguins live in 56 degree water, and they knew they would be dead soon. When the man left, the sharks were attacking other fish in their tank. He witnessed four murders from the roof of the aquarium building as looters attacked one another and police looked on, powerless.

It’s probably stupid to cry over the loss of penguins when there are bodies lying on sidewalks and floating in gutters. But just the efforts of this man and his co-workers to save animals, working around the clock for three days, was heartbreaking. They tried to hold on as long as they could, working for what they believe in. And no one came to help.

The boy who was not permitted to take his dog, who he saved from the flood, when he boarded the bus for the Astrodome – that was another story that struck me in the heart. Again, a small, perhaps insignificant tragedy when compared to the death of people trapped in their attics – but after he had done so much, and saved his friend, to be parted for no good reason – it’s maddening and infuriating and makes me feel absolutely powerless.

I’ve never even really been to New Orleans, except passing through while driving to Florida. We took one trip when I was around nine – I think in 1975. My mother packed us all into our huge white Thunderbird with the license plate “JACKAL” (my father’s Air Force nickname.) We drove from Arizona along I-10, headed for my grandparents’ house in Florida. CB radios were big then, and my mother communicated with the truckers using the handle “Lady Jackal.” They looked out for us. We drove endlessly through Texas (“the sun has riz/the sun has set/and we ain’t out of Texas yet.”) We stopped in Fort Stockton for the worst bowl of tinny chicken soup I have ever eaten. We stopped in New Orleans, where the humid air felt like tomato soup in my lungs.

We were driving over a huge bridge – I imagine the bridge over the Mississippi, although I don’t know the name of it – and the car stalled. My mother managed to get it started again, and on we went. Many years later, my mother told me that when the car stalled, she could see an 18-wheeler barreling up behind us. If she didn’t get the car started again, we would be crushed when the truck hit us, because there was nowhere else for the truck to go. She said she stayed calm because she didn’t want to frighten us – but she knew this was life or death. And the car started.

The people in New Orleans saw disaster looming behind them in their rear-view mirrors. Some were able to outrun it. So many were not. The crash happened; a city has been destroyed. And the vile idiots who are sucking our country dry and killing our soldiers stand by and claim that “no one could have predicted” what happened.

I will go mad.

I must not go mad.

What’s in the rear-view mirror now?


Blogger Jason Rohrblogger said...

I love your writing:

"the humid air felt like tomato soup in my lungs."

This is so descriptive. So much of the blogosphere is derivative and you are always fresh and original.

And I agree with this post!

"They stole their way into power, and have spent every waking moment looting and pillaging our country (when they aren’t shopping for shoes or eating birthday cake while on vacation.)"

Preach it, brother. Testify.

The dog story is heartbreaking. It vaguely reminds me of Sophie's Choice: having to give up something you are socially (and genetically) obligated to protect in order to save yourself. Only the reason for the sacrifice is some arbitrary rule being enforced under desperate circumstances.

This disaster reeks like the Old Testament: a city smote by flood, an evil ruler, and plenty of animal and human sacrifice. I'm hoping angry ol' Jehovah will settle down now and J.C., the New Testament hippie love part of the Trinity, will heal the fertile Crescent City.

Condoleezza Rice better not look back at the destruction, she may turn into a pillar of salt.

Keep on blogging in the Free World.

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was recalling the very same event as I learned how much damage there has been. We had just filled the tank in New Orleans and were on our way. The bridge you are remembering was the Interstate 10 high-rise bridge over the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain east of New Orleans. I read in the paper that portions of it have collapsed. We stopped in Lafayette, LA to learn that apparently the gasoline had been adulterated so stopped up the fuel line filter and that's why the car stalled. We had to wait to get a new fuel line filter. The locals were most helpful and friendly, The waitress in the diner even listened to the tale of the metalica chicken soup; in the garage next door, the mechanic dropped everything else he was doing to get us on our way.

I feel as you do about the federal government. I hope that people don't get lulled again. barb

7:45 PM  
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